Hickenlooper’s Hypocrisy on Highway Expansion on Full Display in 2008 Documentary

If the governor stuck to the same transportation policy he espoused as mayor, the widening of I-70 would be dead.

Imagen: Journeyman Pictures
Imagen: Journeyman Pictures

As governor, John Hickenlooper has expressed no hesitation about the Colorado Department of Transportation widening I-70 in north Denver, spending billions to create more sprawl and pollution. Just last week he insisted that the highway expansion will be good for Denver’s health.

But when he was mayor and directly accountable to Denver residents, Hickenlooper had a very different stance on highway projects. Back then, Hickenlooper portrayed himself as a forward-thinking urbanist intent on building a city where walking, biking, and transit got people where they needed to go.

You can see that version of Hick in the 2008 documentary “Sprawling from Grace.”

The film documents the lasting damage caused by politicians who prize highway expansions above all else: Spread out development patterns that lock people into car dependence, sapping personal wealth and entrenching our unsustainable addiction to oil.

Hickenlooper makes three appearances as a talking head between B-roll of Denver roads full of cars and trucks. In one of the opening scenes, he says he can’t fathom why we’ve built this drive-everywhere landscape:

If you really begin looking at the roots of why we’ve had this incredible increase in vehicle miles traveled and number of car trips per day per family — we’re up top 13 or 14 car trips per family per day — to me it’s unfathomable. Until you actually look at people’s — you know, our lifestyles have become so segmented.

Later on, Hickenlooper dreams of a city where people can walk everywhere:

My vision of transit is that it allows us to have a sequence of dense hubs of activity. So people live, people work, they can go to movies or get a cup of coffee all in one spot. So when they walk out and are seeking something, they don’t have to get in their car. If you can walk everywhere and get what you need, then all of a sudden a lot of the bad parts of economic growth go away. You don’t have the pollution, you don’t have the traffic jams — you have a much more sustainable life.

At the time, Hickenlooper had a decent track record on transit and planning issues, helping to pass the 2004 FasTracks legislation. Widening a freeway in the middle of the city, however, completely undercuts that work.

Hickenlooper’s head of planning at the time, Peter Park, also appears in the documentary. Here’s what he had to say:

For decades the common solution to congestion on highways and freeways was adding a lane or adding several lanes, as if continually adding lanes is gonna solve our congestion problems as growth occurs. Well the reality is, and we know today, that in fact adding lanes only induces more congestion. And what’s amazing about it, if you think about it, is that we spend billions of dollars on our roads systems and expanding road systems.

Which is exactly what Hickenlooper plans to do with I-70. Now that he has the power to reverse the cycle of car dependence he found so troubling a decade ago, he’s doing nothing to stop it. As governor (and a rumored presidential candidate), Hickenlooper is just another booster for freeways and sprawl.